Personal reflections on urbanism, urban life and sustainable urban design in Wellington, New Zealand.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Secret railway?

There's a tiny story on page 3 of today's Dominion Post that should be big news. The headline says Rail link to airport considered. Can this be true?!?

The Wellington City and Regional councils, together with Transit NZ, are studying ways to improve transport links between Ngauranga and the airport. If recent policy is anything to go by, you would expect this to be all about building more roads. Encouragingly, though, Transit's regional transportation manager (Eric Whitfield) is quoted as saying:
"We anticipate some sort of rail [link] will come out of consultation ... It's not just roads, we need to look at all modes of transport."
If that is the case, then some serious infrastructure development would be required, and you'd expect some mention of this in the draft 10-year plans that have recently been released for consultation by both the city council and regional council. Not a sausage. The city council's transport plan (823kB PDF) sets some modest goals for increasing the use of sustainable transport modes (they want the proportion of commuters entering the city by bus, cycle or on foot to increase from 47% now to 58% in 2016), but apart from a few more bus shelters there seems to be little infrastructural investment to help reach that target. The regional council's goals (1.7MB PDF) are even punier: maintain the proportion of journey-to-work trips made via public transport at the current 15.6% (based upon the very loaded statement that "population growth in itself is not a significant assumption for forecasting patronage growth on public transport services"). They are at least putting $500 million into upgrading infrastructure and rolling stock, but most of that appears to be just long-overdue maintenance without any real upgrade in capacity, and certainly no mention of any brand new lines. Option 3 is right to call this plan "myopic".

So where is the hard information about a rail link being "considered"? Perhaps on Transit's website? They at least have a media release about the Ngauranga to Airport study (unlike the city and regional council's sites), but there's no mention of rail and only the vaguest reference to passenger transport at all. They say that a "consultation leaflet" is available for download, but I couldn't find that either, and had to physically go to the council offices to find it. It's a thin little flyer that says it wants our input, but mentions no suggestions or options whatsoever. So, the only justification I can find for the headline is that the reporters asked Transit whether rail would be considered at all, and they didn't rule it out.

I suppose we should be glad that the powers that be are asking for our suggestions in the most general way, rather than asking us to select from a handful of options. But there's certainly no sign that they are seriously planning a city-to-airport rail link, so one wouldn't have to be too cynical to imagine that the concept will float around a bit before being discarded, and the final consultation will be a choice between two different road-widening schemes. Oh joy.

It means that it's up to us. Wellingtonians. If we're happy to let more cars clog up the city and see more neighbourhoods get torn up for motorways and "bypasses", then we just have to do nothing and the car-centric status quo will keep rolling on. Someone's bound to dig up the old cliché about "Kiwis not giving up their love affair with the car" and the "fact" that there's no demand for a world-class public transport system. But even over the last year Wellington's train patronage has increased by 7% and bus ridership by 4%, and we desparately need more capacity. Hell, even Aucklanders will use public transport if it's there! So if we want transport quality and capacity to not just keep up with demand but lead the way to the future, we need to come up with sensible, viable, concrete options and present them with clarity and force so that they can become official options for the final consultation.


At 3:43 pm, April 19, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...


can you post the tiny pamphlet on line? or submission details? we can bombard Transit / the WRC with submissions if we know where to send them to... and what they're proposing....

At 4:42 pm, April 19, 2006, Blogger Tom said...

Jo: it's not a crazy idea. A company actually bought a hovercraft with the intention of starting a commuter service from Upper Hutt, along the Hutt River and across the harbour to the CBD. I think they had problems with consents (of course), river speed restrictions and other things, and as far as I know the hovercraft is still sitting on the Petone foreshore with the eventual intention of using it for tourists. But a hovercraft (or fast cat) connection from Queens Wharf to the Airport might work.

Anonymous: I've emailed transit to ask where the downloadable pamphlet is, and if I get that I'll post it. But there's really no detail in it at all beyong what's in the Transit press release: they're not proposing anything, just asking us to "consider" a bunch of issues and suggest solutions. Comments and submissions should be sent by 15 May to: transport.study@opus.co.nz.

Unfortunately, I wouldn't be at all suprised if they've already made up their minds. The only recent document I could find on the WCC site that even mentions light rail is a document from the start of March this year about bus priority lanes (106kB PDF), which claims that "Light rail options are not an affordable option at this time". Sigh. I guess once they've spent all the money on the "bypass" and Transmission Gully, nothing will be affordable.

At 9:39 pm, April 19, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If a rail link to the airport were to be considered, where would the tracks be laid? Personally I don't think there's any room for it unless it was built on a raised track (or underground though that'd be far too expensive), but then you'd get hundreds of protests about the damage it would do to the skyline. Is it really a feasible option for such a small yet built-up city?

At 10:52 am, April 20, 2006, Blogger Tom said...

Along the roads for most of the way: a light rail system is essentially trams, and they have a long history in cities even smaller than Wellington. Through the CBD, you wouldn't get the advantage of having a dedicated right-of-way, but with traffic lights timed to synchronise with the trams, they could still be pretty quick.

At 4:48 pm, April 21, 2006, Blogger Baz said...

> I guess once they've spent all the money
> on the "bypass" and Transmission Gully,
> nothing will be affordable.

Funny thing that. Petrol prices in NZ have doubled in the last 7 years, more people are moving to public transport, and we ain't seen nothing yet (just wait until oil production starts declining). But rather than investment in public transport *before* demand goes through the roof, we're having a big spend-up on roads even as running a car becomes increasingly unaffordable. Makes perfect sense.

At 10:37 pm, April 21, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

http://www.transit.govt.nz/projects/projects-list.jsp scroll down to SH1N - there are two pamphlets - the big one seems to be corrupt - can't read it...

At 10:18 am, April 22, 2006, Blogger Tom said...

Hi anonymous,

Thanks for that: glad to see that they've finally got them up there (there were no PDF links when I wrote the post).

The first one (1.3MB PDF) is a fairly detailed 33-page analysis of the issues, facts and projections, so it's pretty much required reading for an informed consideration of the problem. The second one (662kB PDF) is just an A4 glossy pamphlet with little detail, so if you can't read it (worked for me: maybe it's an Acrobat version issue?) you're not missing much.

Neither of them mention any concrete options for what to do with the corridor, and there's no explicit mention of a rail or light rail link from the CBD to the airport. However, the first doc contains these "considerations" that hint at the possibility:

- "Inadequate penetration of rail into the CBD"
- "Consideration of options for rapid passenger transport linking the railway station to Courtenay Place and the airport"

There's also this lovely statement, that Peter Dunne should be forced to read:

"[the] level of passenger transport use, combined with the location of the rail station and the fact that 13.5% of workers walk to work, mean that Wellington can be described as 'a walking city'"

At 4:13 pm, November 20, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here's a hovercraft we built for the neighborhood. First part is the test drive (note helmet and protective gear). After it passed the test flight the younger kids joined in. A bit difficult to stear at first (hence the leash). Then with a little practice we let the leash go at the end.



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